Thinking Hard About ‘Race-Neutral’ Admissions

Our exploration is organized as follows. In Part I, we sympathetically consider the very difficult dilemmas facing higher education leaders. Understanding the often irreconcilable pressures that constrain university administrators is essential if we are to envision the plausible policies they might undertake. In Part II, we draw on a range of data to illustrate some of the “properties” of admissions systems and, in particular, the ways in which race, SES, and academic preparation interact dynamically both within individual schools and across the educational spectrum. Partly because the questions we examine here have been so little studied, ideal data does not exist, but there are enough government and university sources of data to grasp many key dynamics. In Part III, we turn to the “compliance” question—how have major schools conformed with or evaded the requirement of race-neutral policies? We examine in some depth admissions data from the University of California and the University of Michigan and find strong evidence of non-compliance in both cases. What does their conduct tell us about the operation of these policies? In Part IV, we detail a tentative policy agenda that follows from our findings.